There’s an interesting NY Times article from this past weekend that declares Europeans can’t afford their cradle to grave safety net. Declining birth rates, longer lifespan, and the migration of manufacturing to the developing world are all contributors to the problem. Change is needed, and it will be a hard pill to swallow. I hope we learn from this as a nation. Conservatives and Liberals both need to find some political will to make the kind of hard choices, and I hope we can all agree on this: We’ve got to stop living beyond our means.
The changes in Europe, though, will come through raising the retirement age and cutting some benefits. Don’t expect Europe to lose its socialist bent anytime soon. As the former German Foreign Minister declares: “It’s a matter of national security, of our democracy.” (referring to the socially equalizing nature of the education and health care entitlements that mark European culture). The Minister’s point is that political stability has come about in Europe via the accessibility of education and health care for all people, contributing to a large middle class.
That Obama is trying to emulate this philosophy through expanding the role of government in our lives is the great fear of conservatives. Their case seems based in Romans 13, where Paul declares that the purpose of the government is simple, and limited: it exists in order to keep people safe by punishing evil doers. (Romans 13:1-7) This passage says nothing about providing health care for everyone, unemployment benefits, or for that matter, social security, or medi-care. This passage is sometimes interpreted as meaning that the provision of infrastructure, police, and an army, ought to be enough. Government? The smaller the better.
I understand the view, but is that really what Paul is saying? While I don’t know the answer, I do know that CS Lewis said something like, “the worst crimes are committed by people in suits and ties” (can anyone help me find the exact quote). Who is the evildoer? The guy who breaks into my house and steals my stuff? Of course. But is the evildoer also the one who knowingly sells tainted beef, or the company who drops health coverage to a sick person on a technicality after years of receiving their faithful premium payments, or the company who creates and sells derivative swaps, walking away with billions precisely because the markets went under? Are these not crimes as well? What does “punish the evil doer” mean in these cases? I fear that the Ron Paulists would argue that the market will take of these things, that if I die from eating poisoned beef, my family will tell people not to buy at that restaurant anymore, and the market will offer punishment enough. Do you agree? I don’t. I’m happy to know that someone is checking to see that eating establishments use clean plates, and keep their hot food hot, and their cold food cold. I’m glad that there are regulations that pilots fly sober, and that no single company can buy out all competitors and control an entire industry, or that nuclear power plants can’t dump their waste in rivers. These things require government, and their role is Romans 13ish: punish the evil doers.
Regarding entitlements, I’ll only add that when God ran the government (or tried to anyway), provision was made for the poor, and the year of Jubiliee pretty much assured that there’d always be a middle class, because of God’s wealth redistribution program that would make any socialist blush. Should Christians be encouraging their governments along these lines as well, or only along the lines of Romans 13?
I’m trying to limit my posts these days to the subject of sustainable faith, but I continue to believe that a mature faith is related to our capacity to critique, as citizens of the kingdom, both the political right and left, as we try and help each other work for the good of places where we live. Towards that end, discussion of the merits and liabilities of various views can be valuable, not as a means of inciting fanaticism, but of increasing understanding. I welcome your thoughts.